There is an industrial revolution going on. Like these things tend to go it starts small, in garages. Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s the idea of making things for yourself or repairing things sort of became passe’ for just about everybody. Products became disposable. The electronic kits of my youth from RadioShack and Heathkit went out of business. Most of the hobbies like modelbuilding or trains were replaced by videogames, at least for the kids with an accompanying closure of a good portion of the hobbystores, at least in my area. It looked like DIY was dead.
In the late 2000’s all that suddenly changed. All of a sudden you started seeing people hacking stuff together and making stuff. There were the wonderful new tools to play with. What happened is that people started to realize that things that were heretofore expensive weren’t any more. and that the precision required by computer components could be use for other things. Take apart a CD or DVD dive and there are all those parts to play with. And people have.
The innovation of America is not dead. People from all walks of life are discovering their inner innovator. One reason for this is that it’s never been easier to access the powerful tools and technologies that can make things happen. As manufacturing declined a bunch of old lathes and mills have ended up in peoples garages. As well as oscilloscopes, voltage sources and all the tools that can build anything in electronics. Add to that computer controlled tools and robotics where the price has dropped to toy levels and it all adds up to massive increase in the availability of powerful tools in the hand of average people.
Being American, we want to share our successes and failures. Especially with people who might share our passions. some of things are truly amazing. I am in awe of what people in the US and what they can do. Every day I see yet another model maker, home machinist, electronics whiz, computer hacker that just blows my mind. Here are some examples. The beautiful work shown at the craftsmanship museum represents the best that many people created with passion and skill.
There are so many things that people are creating that don’t appear in the popular mainstream. Things that are true works of art. So much of what we see is prepackaged and it’s take it or leave it. Far too much of what have has no imprint of our individuality on it. But that is changing as people reach their inner creator and make stuff like this.:
Here’s the kind of shop that people are building in their homes. I’ve worked at places that did incredible things with less well equipped shops. This is real power. And this shop doesn’t use CNC.:
What do you get from somebody who does. It looks like this. He’s just using a small mill, but he produces incredible things with it.
There have always been people working in their shops at home. What’s different is the communities that are starting up and getting together. It’s not somebody working alone anymore, it’s collaborations and communication. There are, for instance, magazines like Make:
and Home Shop machinist:
loaded with how to and easily found in newsstands. People like the Gingery’s self publish books on how they made stuff, including a complete machine shop:
There are also sources for old references that were originally printed in the early part of the 20th century and then reprinted after the copyrights run out, thereby keeping old skills from being lost.:
As well as youtube channels like Tom Lipton’s for metalworking:
Or Dave Jones for electronics:
There’s all sorts of stuff just out there for the grabbing.
Just as important are the get togethers. The newest are the Maker Faires, where just about anybody can show off stuff they’ve made. The Maker Faires show off what can be done with the newest technologies. They are also really fun.
Along with the Maker Faires, Various hobbies have their own shows and meets. these are good for discovering what is happening outside the mainstream. For machining for instance you have Cabin Fever:
And the N.A.M.E.S.:
There are more. For old computers and hacking There’s the Trenton Computer Festival:
And the famous MIT flea.
What s happening is that more and more people are getting together and discovering that you can indeed lift the lid on things and hack them together in new and interesting ways. people are looking at things not by their limitations, but how they can be changed to better fit their needs. Even something like the IPhone gets repackaged, modified, apped, and redecorated until no two phones are exactly alike. The next step is that people will just buy the upgradable guts of the phone and put their mods around it. There’s a whole new ethos about this, a willingness to not accept the prepackaged boring stuff that’s handed to us and get dangerous. It’s a maker culture rather than a consumer culture.
We know that something is really happening when academia pays attention to it and MIT is paying a lot of attention to the new fabricating technologies. I’m not sure if they started looking at what was happening or were looking at ways to look at how things could be made differently, but they have made a good basic blueprint that people can use to create hackerspaces, or clubs for making stuff.
This is important because real technological change doesn’t come from big corporate or government research facilities. The atmosphere in those places tends to stifle real creativity of the kind that creates revolutions. Industrial revolutions start in garages using all those great tools the big guys build and then can’t figure out what to do with because they are too busy being large bureaucracies.
It’s the small businesses and startups where the revolutions start. And it’s happening. In spite of the worst economy in almost a century, it’s happening. It’s chaotic and messy, a glorious churning of new ideas and I doubt that anybody really understands what and why things are going on, but there it is. This is the coming revolution.
The Let’s Build Series: